Assembly candidates introduce themselves

Before a backdrop festooned with American flags and paintings of charging elephants, the four candidates vying for what will be an open 74th Assembly District seat traded conservative credentials at a Newport Mesa Tea Party Patriots event Thursday night.

The meeting at Costa Mesa's Halecrest Park Swim and Tennis Club drew about 100 people. Newport Mesa Tea Party founder Tom Pollitt moderated.

One by one, the candidates — who will be on the ballot next year to replace Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) as he runs for the Orange County Board of Supervisors — discussed how they would create jobs and loosen the state's hold on local government.

First, Santa Ana native and community activist Karina Onofre told audience members that her top priorities are luring businesses to California and increasing educational access.

If elected, the 31-year-old said, she would push to keep new businesses from having to pay corporate taxes for 11 years.

Onofre, the only woman in the field, also pledged to bring a feminine touch to Orange County's Assembly delegation.

"Men and women are wired differently," she said. "When there are women, they regulate. We need a strong, conservative woman to regulate."

As a Latina and a former Democrat who "saw the light," Onofre said she represented the future of the Republican Party. She added that she planned to prove wrong those who doubt that there's a place for "beautiful women" in politics, citing Sarah Palin as a positive example.

Next, Newport Councilman Keith Curry outlined his history working in Republican politics, from the time he heard anti-tax activist Howard Jarvis speak to his time serving in the Reagan administration as an assistant to the federal transit administrator.

He stressed that he would work to lower taxes — echoing Onofre's concerns that California was scaring businesses out of the state with over-taxation and regulation.

Curry, 58, added that he would safeguard the provisions of Proposition 13, the 1978 voter-approved initiative that put limits on property taxes and required a two-thirds vote for any future tax hikes.

"I'm the guy who's going to protect Prop. 13," he said. "I'm going to make sure they don't take away the protections we voted for."

The longtime public finance consultant highlighted Newport Beach's fiscal health, even through the recession, but said state agencies — the California Coastal Commission in particular — had placed "roadblocks in the way of responsible local government." In the Assembly, he said, he would work to change that.

Huntington Beach Mayor Matthew Harper said his underlying beliefs guide his work as a lawmaker.

"I believe that life begins at conception. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and the voters of California said so [by passing 2008's Proposition 8]," he said, drawing applause. "I believe in freedom and liberty ... and that the Constitution is the best document in the world to protect our liberties."

Harper, 39, said he would be undeterred by a strongly Democratic Legislature, that he would "take the fight to other districts."

"I think you need someone who's right on the issues," he said. "It matters even on the school board whether a person's conservative or liberal."

He added that his approach had won the endorsements of Mansoor and Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer, whom he sees as a mentor.

Finally, Emanuel Patrascu, who works as the district director for Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach), said his work fighting regulation of Southern California's beach fire rings spurred him to seek office.

The 32-year-old Laguna Beach resident described how his family came to the United States from Romania. His father, he said, had received political asylum in the U.S.

His past, Patrascu said, underscored for him the importance of personal freedoms and the Constitution.

"[There is] no other country, no other place, where this could've happened," he said. "I've seen what happens when you let government take those liberties away."

The fire rings proved to be something of a bone of contention between the candidates, even as their views largely aligned on economic and other regulatory issues.

While Harper and Patrascu vowed to fight the South Coast Air Quality Management District's restrictions on wood-burning bonfires, Curry said he wanted to give individual cities control over whether fires should burn on their beaches.

"Well, I'm sure we're going to hear more about fire pits," Pollitt said, closing the evening.

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